Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 7, September 2004

Igor Z. Zagar

How "refugees" became "illegal migrants": Constuction, Reconstruction, Deconstruction


In 1998, Marjeta Doupona Horvat, Jef Verschueren, and myself published a booklet The pragmatics of legitimation: The rhetoric of refugee policies in Slovenia. The book discusses an episode in Slovenian public rhetoric, historically situated roughly as a one-year time span from April 1992 to March 1993, and topically defined in terms of "refugee policies". The approach was a pragmatic text analysis in a tradition of empirical ideology research, paying special attention to implicit aspects of meaning construction, in interaction or in contrast with explicitly voiced perspectives and with rhetorical goals and constraints.
In the present paper, I would like to re-examine and re-interpret some of these eight years old data in the light of the latest "refugee crisis" that culminated in the first months of 2001. This time the "problem" weren't the Bosnians refugees who chose Slovenia as their final destination, but refugees from the former Soviet Union, Asia, Middle East and Africa, mostly seeking refuge and asylum in the West, and therefore using Slovenia only as a transit state.
The aim of the paper is to show how their "identity" was (re)constructed in Slovenian media, and to uncover implicit mechanisms (and techniques) behind these constructions.

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